Essay: On Kidulting

Writer Hailey Gates talks about the place in between being a kid and being an adult.

Over spring break, a normal catch-up conversation with my mom unexpectedly turned into a tearful confession about my life’s lack of direction and a recent quarrel I had had with my roommates. I couldn’t really determine what I was upset about, if the problem was something immediate and superficial or intrinsic to my personhood.

My mom responded to my breakdown with solemn, knowing nods, looking at me empathetically as she philosophically explained the nature of my condition. 

“Yeah, this kidulting stuff is hard,” she said. “Bigger kids, bigger problems.” 

This was the focal point of her consolation. She didn’t offer an explanation as to what “kidulting” meant. 

I’ve been mulling over the word — a combination of “kid” and “adult” — since she introduced me to it, and the more I think about it the more it makes sense. The college years are equivalent to the infancy of adulthood. We encounter problems that feel bigger but are really derived from the same issues dealt with in childhood. 

Sharing, for instance, is much harder now. Although it may seem like an issue left in childhood, sharing is a difficult and intrinsic part of the kidult’s day. We are expected to be constantly sharing — ideas, opinions, feelings. Nothing is more centered around sharing than a college education. 

In childhood we shared toys and treats, now we share pieces of ourselves. 

Not knowing things is an adversity of childhood that is also more difficult when kidulting. No one expects kids to know anything, as learning is an integral part of growing up. Knowing everything isn’t an external expectation of kidulting, but it’s an expectation kidults often put upon themselves — a self-imposed myth one must shed all not-knowing the second childhood is breached. 

In kidulthood, disagreements are caused by two people who are both in the right.  Misunderstandings happen just as — if not more — frequently as a byproduct of experience rather than a moral learning curve or lack of knowledge. While two kids may get into a disagreement because one hit the other, kidults get into disagreements about the validity of political activism online. 

Peer pressure is thought to have gone away but in reality, it has morphed into a voluntary pressure derived from seeing peers succeed. In this way, the pressure has gotten worse. Kidults are told by their peers that it’s alright not to have everything figured out despite being constantly surrounded by real adults who are finding success. 

Bigger kids, bigger problems. 

Although I think part of the issue is rooted in the limited scope of a kidult’s view — perhaps the problems are only bigger because we see them that way. Expecting adversities to manifest as “adult problems” while one is still navigating adulthood’s beginnings gives everyday issues an unmanageable weight. 

Realizing that kidult problems are, in fact, kidult sized may help make said problems easier to tackle. One can be simultaneously worried about the direction of their life and what they are going to eat for dinner. 

My friends and I like to call ourselves the neo-School of Athens when we talk about things like the restraints of logical positivism or if it’s possible to ever become truly self-sustaining. We prod at these philosophical constructs with an unwarranted confidence, as if we didn’t spend the night before breaking down over dirty dishes in the sink. 

This tension is the driving force behind kidulthood — trying to balance understanding the meaning of life with not having a dishwasher for the first time. The issues one faces in their early 20s are an unorthodox mix of nostalgic and new. 

Looming internship applications are interrupted by the realization you haven’t gone grocery shopping in three weeks. Important meetings with professors are canceled because a fight between roommates got out of hand. Navigating a city by yourself suddenly becomes impossible because you forgot to charge your phone last night.

Kidulthood is a synthesis of mature issues and adolescent inconveniences. As one learns to become an adult, they must first go through an era of becoming, where the evolving lessons from childhood are interwoven with an onslaught of new issues needing to be solved. 

Kidulting is difficult — the problems have gotten bigger with the kids but they have also grown proportionally. With all of these new and old problems comes the gift of grace. Even if new challenges seem looming and impossible, as long as we’re still hung up on dirty dishes, we know we’re okay. 

Until adulthood finally comes, leaning into kidulthood’s humility is what fosters growth. Even if sharing, fighting and not-knowing feel like juvenile issues to have, the reality is these issues are ever-present and ever-changing. They’re meant to feel childish for as long as we’re kidults. 

As long as we’re kidulting, we can be adulting wrong — it’s not something we have to worry about yet. 

Feature image courtesy of Hailey Gates

Hailey Gates

Hailey Gates